Tag Archives: Lisa Pelikan

You Have Changed Me Forever: Remembering ‘The Normal Heart’

The-Normal-Heart_5NC Cropped

Tim Cummings, Bill Brochtrup, “The Normal Heart”, Fountain Theatre, 2013.

by Tim Cummings

“Hello, you don’t know me. I hope you get this message. Sometimes, when you try to send a message to someone you’re not ‘friends’ with on Facebook, it gets blocked, or you have to ‘approve’ it. I hope you’ll approve this message if it gets to you.

 I saw The Normal Heart on Saturday night, and haven’t slept well since. My father died of AIDS in 1995. I was 15. Except he didn’t die of AIDS, he died of ‘cancer.’ Except we all knew it was AIDS because he was gay and had been sleeping around with men for years. We were a Catholic family, and so shame was tantamount to pretty much everything, especially my dad’s secret life. There were a lot of years after he died where Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and anniversaries were lonely days, hollow days where not much was said and my sister and I would sit with our mom around the table and stare at our food.

Watching you on stage, the frustration and rage, it was so palpable it cracked me open, like an egg, and I feel like I can feel again. Except now I feel a lot of rage too. I feel like the rage is taking its revenge, saying, “You ignored me for 20 years and now I own you.” I feel like you brought it into my life. It was like you were breaking barriers up there. I could feel how uncomfortable the audience was at times. Like they were afraid of you. I was too, I guess, but also relieved. I don’t know what you are doing up there, or how you manage to live the role several times a week, but I want you to know that you have changed me forever. More than the play. More than the production. YOU.

I didn’t know who Larry Kramer was before the other night, but I’ve been reading up on him and watching videos on YouTube. He wanted to change things and wake people up and he could only do it by shattering everyone around him that wouldn’t listen. He’s lucky someone like you can interpret his intentions. I will probably see the show again before it closes. For now, I’m figuring out what to do with these feelings. Like, how do I forgive my dad? How do I talk to my mom, after all these years, about what really happened? How many more people out there are just like me, waiting for something to come along and break them open? Too many innocent men died. For nothing. I think I might take boxing lessons.”

In the summer of 2013, I was 40 (and a half) years old and really taking stock of my life, as one is wont to do at 40 (and a half). I had been in Los Angeles exactly a decade at that point, and reflecting on my career as an actor: roles won, roles lost, characters deeply inhabited, their skins later shed like a snake once a show ended, reviews, awards, pounds gained and dropped again, friends made and later lost, the worry over male pattern baldness. That summer, I contemplated the possibility that the ‘acting thing’ was more of a hobby than a profession. Things had changed drastically after I moved from New York to LA. In NY, I was working on Broadway, making a living acting. I was on a good trajectory there.

Where I grew up, and in my time, theater had always felt like a great act of rebellion, a middle-finger held up high to everything normal and expected and accepted. Thespians were teased and bullied, but I prided myself on being subversive, anathema to their pack mentality and bougie normality. Theater was punk af. In LA, however, acting suddenly felt like trying to be part of the popular kids again. Clique mentality. I wanted no part of it. How will I succeed if I have no interest in playing by the rules? I’ve always hated rules. I didn’t want to be hot or muscular or skinny or alpha or tan or…commercially viable in any way. I didn’t want to do things the way they were supposed to be done. I desired to shave my head, ring my eyes with racoon-black eyeliner, cover my body in tattoos, pierce every part of me, paint like Pollock, join a band. I contemplated whomever managed to pull off “LA success” with bitter disdain and a kind of squishy envy. That’s okay—I’m not above being human. Actors are not superheroes, despite the way the media depict them and fame & fortune define them.

I happened to be perusing the labyrinthian interwebs that summer when I discovered a breakdown for The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 agit-prop manifesto about AIDS in the early-to-mid 1980s and how he and his friends banded together to create GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis). The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood was set to produce, overseen by one of the theatre’s founders and Co-Artistic Director, the outstanding Stephen Sachs. The play hadn’t been done in LA in about twenty years, and though it had been given a slick, starry revival on Broadway a few years prior, it felt, perhaps, like something that sunny, surfery Southern California had no right to consider. It’s my (arguably harsh) opinion that LA has always felt too granola (read: passive) for the righteous anger of stories birthed in New York City by New Yorkers.

Nonetheless, The Fountain had a reputation for mounting plays with a social justice bend, and Kramer’s behemoth was certainly no exception. I drafted a cordial email to the casting director asking to be seen. (I’m a firm believer that if you want something done, you do it yourself, and immediately. In other words, I wasn’t going to ask the manager to ask the agent if I had been submitted and then wait around, to neither receive a response nor an appointment time.) When casting responded to my inquiry I assumed the team would want to see me for the role of Bruce Niles, the strapping gay ex-marine. At 6’2” , broad-shouldered, and north of 200lbs, I figured it was the only role they’d consider me for. Instead, they asked me to prepare the role of Ned Weeks, the play’s antagonistic protagonist. Ned is molded out of the playwright himself, the pejorative Larry Kramer. It was the true story of him and his friends, after all, and he was going to tell it his way. It’s a colossal script, with a role as immense as Hamlet, and on nearly every page it elucidates Ned’s pushiness, outspokenness, and righteous anger.

How does an audience go on a journey, and root for, a disagreeable character?  Continue reading

Fountain Theatre Wins 26 Awards from StageSceneLA For Excellence in 2013-14

The Fountain Theatre has gobbled up 26 Theater Awards from Stage SceneLA for our acclaimed 2013-14 productions of The Normal Heart, My Name is Asher Lev and The Brothers Size. StageSceneLA editor Steven Stanley announced the winners this week after seeing and reviewing 268 productions from September 1, 2013 through August 31, 2014. The overall awards list is long and there are multiple winners in many categories.  All of it demonstrating, as Steven Stanley affirms, that “theater in Los Angeles and its surrounding communities is alive and thriving and quite often simply as good as it gets. “

These 2013-14 Fountain productions received the following awards:

The Normal Heart 

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in 'The Normal Heart'.

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in ‘The Normal Heart’.

  • Production of the Year – The Normal Heart
  • Best Director, Drama – Simon Levy
  • Best Performance, Lead Actor – Tim Cummings
  • Best Performance, Lead Actor – Bill Brochtrup
  • Best Performance, Featured Actress – Lisa Pelikan
  • Best Performance by an Understudy – Ray Paolantonio
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Matt Gottlieb
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Fred Koehler
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Stephen O’Mahoney
  • Memorable Performance, Featured Actor – Dan Shaked & Jeff Witzke

My Name Is Asher Lev

Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in 'My Name Is Asher Lev'.

Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’.

  • Best Production, Drama – My Name is Asher Lev
  • Best Director, Drama – Stephen Sachs
  • Best Performance, Lead Actor – Jason Karasev
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Joel Polis
  • Best Performance, Featured Actress – Anna Khaja
  • Best Costume Design – Shon LeBlanc
  • Best Lighting Design – Ric Zimmerman 
  • Best Scenic Design – Jeff McLaughlin 

The Brothers Size

Gilbert Glenn brown  and Matthew Hancock (photo by Ed Krieger)

Gilbert Glenn Brown and Matthew Hancock in ‘The Brothers Size

  • Best Director – Shirley Jo Finney
  • Best Ensemble Cast, Drama
  • Best Choreography, Play – Ameenah Kaplan
  • Memorable Lighting Design – Pablo Santiago
  • Best Scenic Designer – Hana S. Kim

Multiple Productions: 

  • Sound Design/Composer of the Year – Peter Bayne, The Brothers Size, The Normal Heart
  • Best Props Design – Misty Carlisle – Asher Lev, Brothers Size, Normal Heart

Our thanks to Steven Stanley and StageSceneLa for this acknowledgement.  We appreciate and applaud his enthusiasm and support for theatre in Los Angeles.   

For the complete list of StageSceneLA Award winners click here.

Production photos by Ed Krieger

 

 

Fountain Theatre Earns Nine LA Weekly Theater Award Nominations for Excellence in 2013

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in 'The Normal Heart'.

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in ‘The Normal Heart’.

The Fountain Theatre has been nominated for nine LA Weekly Theater Awards for its acclaimed 2013 productions of The Normal Heart and Heart Song.  

  • Revival Production of the YearThe Normal Heart
  • Direction – Simon Levy, The Normal Heart
  • Leading Female Performance – Pamela Dunlap, Heart Song
  • Leading Male Performance – Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup, The Normal Heart
  • Supporting Female Performance – Lisa Pelikan, The Normal Heart
  • Supporting Male Performance – Verton R.Banks, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, The Normal Heart

Zombie Joe’s Underground will host the 35th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards on April 7 at Exchange LA. The awards honor what the paper’s committee of critics have deemed the best work performed in theaters of 99 seats or less in the 2013 calendar year. 

"Heart Song"

Pamela Dunlap in “Heart Song”

Click here for the full list of nominees. 

Fountain Mail: “One of the most important evenings of theater I’ve had in many, many years”

Stephen O'Mahoney, Tim Cummings

Stephen O’Mahoney, Tim Cummings

Dear Fountain Theatre,

I was going to write a hardcopy letter but decided to use this route instead. Please, if you think it appropriate, pass my comments along to all of the cast members.

As you know, I was in the audience last Friday. Somehow or other I had missed seeing this play up until now. It was and is a very important play in the history of g/l/b/t rights and the AIDS epidemic. As someone who joined his local gay rights organization in Seattle one week to the day after the beginning of the Stonewall riots, I have been very involved with the movement since then. However, given the passage of time, some of my memories of that awful period in my life and the life of this country had dimmed. The superb job you did on the play brought that whole awful period back to me with stunning clarity. I left the theater an emotional mess.

While I am sure that I took away a different experience from others in the audience last Friday, I was happy to see younger people there. Hopefully they came away with some inkling of what we went through then. I had forgotten, over time, the maddening denial of governmental officials as well as members of the press that anything was going on that needed attention. One of the important aspects of that period that the play brought to life was the pain we all felt as our friends died with frightening suddenness. All of these emotions were brought to the audience in a very palpable way.

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup

I do not want to single out any performer more than another for praise as everyone contributed to the effectiveness of the evening. I must say though that Tim Cummings certainly brought all the passion and anger of his character to life very effectively. Bill Brochtrup was a great foil to that anger. His progression in the disease was very effective, especially the makeup he wore at the end of the play. Having had several close friends die of the disease, when he appeared towards the end his appearance caused me to suddenly remember that yes, that was exactly what my friends looked like. Stephen O'Mahoney's portrayal of a closeted gay person wanting to come out but unable to because of his job and background hit the right note. Matt Gottlieb's portrayal of a man trying to be supportive of his brother but also constrained by his professional responsibilities also rang true. Fred Koehler's anguish at the end over his job as well as what was happening in his life as part of the GMHC was heartbreaking. Lisa Pelikan's anger at what was happening and her inability to get anyone to do anything about it rang true. Dan and Jeff and Verton's rolls as important supporting characters were just right for their roles. In short I want to say thank you to all of you. The cast of course are deserving on praise but also the director and the rest of the crew for provided me with one of the most important evenings of theater I've had in many, many years.

I come in to Los Angeles frequently for cultural events as there is nothing here in the desert to equal the quality of what I can see in Los Angeles. This evening was well worth the late-night drive back to Palm Springs. You all are to be commended for doing an outstanding job.

Thank you.

Andrew F. Johnson, Palm Springs, CA 

The Normal Heart Now to Dec 15th (323) 663-1525 MORE 

NEW VIDEO: Acclaimed LA Production of ‘The Normal Heart’ at the Fountain Theatre

NORMAL_HEART_AIDS_Walk_flyer

Enjoy this new promo video for our acclaimed production of The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer. Our exclusive Los Angeles revival directed by Simon Levy has earned rave reviews, overwhelming audience response, and has been extended to December 15th by popular demand.

This promo video was created by our friends and colleagues at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).  GLAAD amplifies the voice of the LGBT community by empowering real people to share their stories, holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively. By ensuring that the stories of LGBT people are heard through the media, GLAAD promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.  

GLAAD’s LGBT Los Angeles theater site shares info on plays that bring LGBT characters and plotlines to life that insure accurate depictions of LGBT people and issues.

The Fountain Theatre production of The Normal Heart has been hailed “brilliant” and “outstanding” and a “must-see”. It is highlighted as a Critic’s Pick and is Ovation Award Recommended. Broadway World exclaims, “This production at the Fountain Theatre certainly exemplifies that great theatre is alive and well in Los Angeles.”

The cast features Verton R. Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, Stephen O’Mahoney, Ray Paolantonio, Lisa Pelikan, Dan Shaked and Jeff Witzke.

MORE 

Extended to Dec 15th! (323) 663-1525 Get Tickets Now!

Post-Show Talkback on AIDS Prevention at ‘The Normal Heart’ This Thursday Oct 17

LAUSD HIV AIDS logo

Special Guests from LA Unified School District HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit to Discuss AIDS and Young People

This Thursday, Oct. 17, immediately following the 8 p.m. performance of The Normal Heart at The Fountain Theatre, guest speakers Timothy Kordic, Project Manager of the LAUSD HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit, and Nancy Ramos, Positively Speaking Facilitator, will host a special talkback with high school students and audience members about the reality of AIDS in 2013 and living with/preventing the disease. Director Simon Levy will moderate the discussion.

The Normal Heart is Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking drama about public and private indifference to the onset of the AIDS crisis, and one man’s fight to awaken the world to its urgency. The title of the play is taken from a line in a poem by W.H. Auden.

The Fountain Theatre is committed to reaching as many high school and college students as possible with the show. According to Advocates for Youth (www.advocatesforyouth.org), a national organization that champions efforts to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health, almost 40 percent of new HIV infections in the United States occur in young people ages 13 to 29. This generation is also the first one to have never known a world without AIDS.

“I think it is important to educate our youth on the effect HIV had in the past and why the AIDS movement historically gained so much traction early on,” says Kordic. “It now needs to be put into perspective for this generation why the fight is not over.”

Special $12 student tickets are available for the Oct. 17 performance only. (Student discount is regularly $25.) The talkback is included in the ticket price. Mention “LAUSD” when calling to make reservations in order to get the reduced price. Adult tickets are $34.

The Normal Heart is directed by Simon Levy and features Verton R. BanksBill BrochtrupTim CummingsMatt GottliebFred KoehlerStephen O’MahoneyRay Paolantonio, Lisa PelikanDan Shaked and Jeff Witzke.

NORMAL HEART AIDS Walk flyer

MORE INFO

Smash Hit ‘The Normal Heart’ Extends to Dec 15 at Fountain Theatre

Tim Cummins, Bill Brochtrup in 'The Normal Heart'.

Tim Cummins, Bill Brochtrup in ‘The Normal Heart’.

“This production at the Fountain Theatre certainly exemplifies that great theatre is alive and well in Los Angeles. “

– Broadway World

The Fountain Theatre’s exclusive L.A. revival of The Normal Heart, which received extensive critical acclaim and has been playing to sold-out houses, will extend through Dec. 15. The Normal Heart is Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking drama about public and private indifference to the onset of the AIDS crisis, and one man’s fight to awaken the world to its urgency. Although it first premiered in 1985, the play was so ahead of its time that many of the core issues it addresses — including gay marriage, a broken healthcare system and, of course, AIDS — remain strikingly relevant today.
Verton R.Banks, Stephen O'Mahoney, Fred Koehler

Verton R.Banks, Stephen O’Mahoney, Fred Koehler

In its “Pick of the Week” review, the LA Weekly calls the Fountain revival “A deeply moving production… performed by a deeply committed ensemble.” BroadwayWorld says, “Critic’s Pick… directed with meticulous detail …. The Fountain Theatre knocks [it] out of the Park.” EDGE Los Angeles raves, “Passionate and powerful… the Fountain’s thoughtful and moving production of this classic qualifies as a must-see,” and LAist finds The Normal Heart to be “A strong, smart, character-driven play… a theatrical triumph for all involved, and a must-see for all theatre lovers.”

In 2000, The Normal Heart was named “one of the 100 greatest plays of the 20th century” by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain. The Fountain Theatre production marks the first time the play has been seen in Los Angeles in over 16 years.

The Normal Heart is directed by Simon Levy and features Verton R. Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, Stephen O’Mahoney, Ray Paolantonio, Lisa Pelikan, Dan Shaked and Jeff Witzke.

Performances continue at the Fountain Theatre through Dec, 15.  For reservations and information: 323-663-1525 www.FountainTheatre.com.

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: The Normal Heart 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.